There is a dampness, the mustiness of the earth and leaves combined that release when I step onto the soil. As my foot sinks into the soft earth, the wet moss bounces back with my touch and branches snap under my feet. A deep inhale and I know I’m home, Oregon.
Terroir isn’t just sun and soil: it’s a feeling, a connection that lives deep inside of many of us. It is a calling, knowing that you are home. You know instantly when you encounter someone with the same love and connection to land and place, which is what I experienced on meeting Pietro Ratti for the first time in 2016.
As head of the revered Piedmont winery, his enthusiasm and confidence for Barolo are undeniable. I had visited this part of Italy before and walked through the Barolo vineyards, but this time it was different. I could feel a connection, a passion, a knowing — a love for the land. You could sense it standing above Conca (one of the oldest sub zones of the Barolo district and Ratti’s first land), viewing the inverted shape of the vineyard where Pietro’s father, Renato knew there was something special about this land. The landscape and soils of Barolo can be mapped and distinguished. Yet, what truly expresses the concept of terroir is this connection, the feeling that this land and its people have been intertwined for hundreds of years.
Barolo stakes its existence against a single variety, Nebbiolo, which leaves no room for error. And it is through this path that you can experience the land and its people in a single expression. Ratti’s Barolo, made from the Rocche dell’Annunizata cru vineyard, best articulates this connection with terroir. It is both intensely aromatic and delicate, then comes the power, which slowly sneaks up to let you know this wine will be able to live a long life.
Meanwhile, another of Maze Row’s producers, the family run Tornatore’s wines are a true expression of Sicily, and in particular Mount Etna. When you spend enough time in the forest, knowing the smell of rain and the mountains, it is that single sliver of sunlight piercing through the trees that calls to your soul. You crave the brightness of the light, the feel of the sun warming your skin and the wide-open sky. Sicily in the summertime delivers this exact feeling.
Arriving for the first time to experience Tornatore is akin to being among family. The warm greetings embody the connection of the Tornatore family to their land and specifically Mount Etna. Living in the shadow of an active volcano is rare for most of us, but the commitment to their land and wines is backed by generations tied to the area known as Castiglione di Sicilia.
In such a landscape, creating terroir-driven wines brings a different level of commitment, one that the owner Francesco Tornatore and his son Giuseppe have had the vision to embrace. Driving up to the vineyard in the contrada of Pietrarizzo on the northside of Etna, you pass a wall made of volcanic rocks, the fine earth layering dust as you move through it.
This intimate connection with the land is vividly expressed through Tornatore’s wines, which are a precise reflection of the sun, minerality of the soil, and the roots of a family whose DNA is embodied in the land. A great example is the Pietrarizzo Bianco and Rosso, which offer aromatics that jump immediately out of the glass, then comes the precision of a lean wine showcasing the minerality of the Etna soil.
These regions and families work hard to bring life to the land they love through the lens of winemaking. They are an expression of living graciously, loving fiercely and drinking with passion.